The New York Times recently published a spotlight piece online about Stephen Kaufer, the chief executive of TripAdvisor. He talks briefly about fencing and how it helped his career:
This week in practice we are learning about feints and preparation. Let’s start with defining the terminology.
Feints, along with tempo, are the basis for modern competitive foil. They are actions which resemble an attack so closely that the opponent reacts as if they were. However, your feint is not followed immediately by a lunge. By dictating your opponents reaction, you gain the upper hand in what move will be played next (hopefully resulting in a touch for you). However, do not waste feints, and always wait for the opponent to attempt a parry before you attack.
We’ve briefly touch upon different types of feints–hand and body. In each case they are actions that not only deceive your opponent, but also actions that help you assess your opponents strengths and weaknesses. You can use your feints in a “probing” way to determine where your opponent’s soft spots are.
Included here is a video by Master Charles Selberg. Even in his retirement years, he demonstrated a fluidity of movement, making his transitions seamless and efficient. I strongly encourage you to view the video and pay close attention to everything. I could expound more on our chosen topic here, but Master Selberg’s talk on feints and preparation are filled with tons of knowledge and presented in an easy fashion. Enjoy!
Have you ever been in the middle of a bout, flourishes and parries flying about, and you suddenly had a feeling of dread build in you that you aren’t good enough to beat your opponent? If you have, then you’ll probably know that it affects the outcome of everything. No matter how well you had been doing, the moment that doubt crept into your mind is the time when you really began to diminish in effectiveness.
What I have noticed in my short time of fencing is that people who are quite confident and content in their skills are harder to beat. Those with less confidence tend to be hesitant and nervous, causing slip-ups and pauses that tend to be their downfall, while those with lots of confidence go straight for the throat (sometimes literally) and don’t hold back. Having tested this against opponents several times, I believe there is a correlation between the level of confidence in a fencer and his/her odds of victory.
Mental discipline is important in fencing. If you have a disciplined mind, you can focus on your opponent’s movements, body language, and signs of an incoming attack. A tactic you should use quite often in bouts is messing up your opponent’s focus. Psychological warfare is a good tool to use against an opponent when you want an upper hand.
Take for example the Appel. The appel is a stamp with your front foot, mainly to create a sound to startle or distract your opponent. It can be done in an advance or even when you’re just standing in the en garde position. Either way, the appel is a good distraction tactic, especially with the jumpier of fencers. Used correctly, it could possibly give you the exact opening you need.
A good intimidation tactic doesn’t have to be a technique. Often times it could be your facial expression. During a small bout I had with a friend, my face was apparently terrifyingly intimidating. It appeared to throw him off during the bout, along with some aggressive beats. So make sure you have your game face on whenever you fence!
To round up what I’m trying to say, your mental state and self-confidence can really affect how you fence. If you can keep focused and confident during a bout, you’ll be much more likely to succeed than if you are distracted by doubts or fears. Also, causing your opponent to lose confidence through techniques such as the appel can help your chances in your duel. Work on these things and you’ll have a much better chance at winning. Remember–Muhammad Ali convinced himself he was the best before he even got in the ring, and it proved effective. Try it for yourself and see what happens.